Victory for the orangutans in Sabah’s Shangri-La Hotel!

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Game Over! FOTO Malaysia received confirmation both remaining orangutans at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort in Sabah have been sent back to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, thus ending the 20 year exploitation of Sabah’s orphan orangutans at the luxury hotel. We were also informed “we [the resort] will never have anymore orangutans here“. But our group will keep a close eye on the resort always.

Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia would like to convey our huge thanks to all supporters who have made this victory possible. Without your concern and support the exploitation would still be happening.

This victory for Malaysian orangutans over a huge corporate entity proves people power can prevail.


Our Shangri-La campaign officials ends today. THANK YOU, and remember:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” – Margaret Mead

FOTO’s reply to BLD on peatland destruction

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On March 6th the Borneo Post published a scathing article written by Haji Wan Abdillah Hamid, the Executive Director of BLD Plantation Bhd. (BLD), a palm oil company which has been exposed clearing peatland for oil palm plantations near Sibu, Sarawak. Borneo Post published a second article on March 23rd. In both publications Mr. Abdillah questioned the veracity of expose by Friends of the Orangutans (FOTO) and other organizations including Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA) and Sarawak Report of BLD’s environmentally destructive practices in its concession in the Igan area.

Since BLD obtained the license to plant oil palms in the aforementioned area in 2000, they had cleared over 12,000 ha out of the 20,400 ha concession, at the very least. In the initial publication Mr. Abdillah claims “there were little or no timber trees left standing and could not be classified or maintained as a forest by any definition”. According to the villagers in Kampung Tutus, one of the villages in Igan which have been affected by the company, even after year 2000 the area surrounding their village (also part of their NCR land) was still forested and they had used it as a mean of subsistence before BLD cleared and replaced it with oil palm plantations. As a result, Kg. Tutus villagers are dragging BLD (and another palm oil company) to court to win their NCR lands back. Alarmingly, we have been informed by a villager of intimidation by the company related to BLD’s legal embroilment.


BLD continues to clear peatland and create drainage canals in their concession

BLD claims its relationship with local communities is productive, amicable and cordial. Based on investigation by FOTO and our partners these claims appear to be quite contrary. The company claims it has helped build houses, a school and even provided electricity for villages in its concession. One village, when informed of this claim, scoffed the company. Investigation in other villages in the concession barely showed any sign of development. Thus, we urge BLD to make public its claims of development.

Mr. Abdillah mentioned the creation of jobs for locals by BLD. How many of its employees are Sarawakians? We have been informed by several villages a good number of its residents have sought jobs in Sibu city and elsewhere as after BLD had converted forests into oil palm plantations what was previously available in the forests (e.g fruits,vegetables, meat) now had to be bought. But why have those villagers forced to look for employment work elsewhere and not for BLD? Could it be because the company employs foreigners mostly? Some local employees interviewed claimed the company paid them poorly. Some locals might have benefited financially from BLD, but how many have, compared to those villages who have suffered losses?

Foreign workers inside the concession, when interviewed, informed their passports are withheld by the management. Will BLD explain? Isn’t it illegal to keep hold of its employees’ passports?


A shack found within the concession in which several workers along with their wives and children live

On the environmental side of things Mr. Abdillah accused FOTO of “slanderous allegations” and questioned the veracity of our and other organizations’ reports after we exposed BLD of clearing carbon rich peatland to establish oil palm plantations. All reports are verified by satellite images, photographs and interviews of villagers in and outside BLD’s Igan concession before they are made public.

Photographs have proven the company’s continued construction of canals to drain very deep peat in preparation for even more oil palm plantations. It is therefore ironic that the writer claims to be concerned about climate change and “exercising good environmental practices” while BLD continues to do great harm to the environment. FOTO strongly encourages BLD to make the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of its Igan concession public.

BLD’s Executive Director stated that “KTS and/or BLD are willing to participate and engage with anyone having genuine intention and professionalism in exercising good environmental practices“. However, our emails to BLD have never been replied to and the management refused to address our concerns through phone calls. In fact, in one of our emails we offered the company assistance in drafting a ‘No Deforestation, No Peat and No Exploitation’ policy as it appears the company does not have any sustainability policy. Could it be because the company would be forced to stop destroying forests including on peatland if they did?

In 2015 Bunge Limited, an American based agribusiness giant suspended trading with Kirana Palm Oil Refinery Sdn. Bhd., a subsidiary of BLD. Why would they do so if BLD didn’t do anything wrong?

Sarawak chief minister Adenan Satem has previously announced “we (state of Sarawak) are not going to open up any more plantations” and “We should not reduce forests and other natural resources to make money and put our future at risk”. So why are BLD allowed to continue destroy peatland in Sarawak at the expense of the environment? Is it business as usual for the ‘Big Six’ of Sarawak?

BLD’s continued destruction of Sarawak’s peatland has gotten global attention and brings much embarrassment to Sarawak and Malaysia, especially when much of Sarawak’s forests have been decimated and countless indigenous locals have been affected by the destruction.

FOTO demands BLD stops further clearing of peatland in the aforementioned concession with immediate effect.

Shangri-La orangutan exploitation: to end on March 31st!

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Update about our campaign to stop Shangri-La from exploiting orangutans in their luxurious resort in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah:

FOTO was informed earlier this week and is please to announce that the two remaining orangutans at the luxury resort will be sent back to the Sepilok rehabilitation centre on Thursday 31st of March, officially ending the Shangri-La Group’s 20 years exploitation of Sabah’s orphan orangutans!

This so called “orangutan rehabilitation” programme was initiated in 1996 with the approval of the Sabah Wildlife Department. FOTO has been campaigning since last year and despite numerous attempts to contact Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria’s management we never received reply from them.


Thank you to all our supporters!


If you wish to check out for more information please read our post here.

We will bring more updates as we get them.

State project threatens Kinabatangan’s endangered wildlife

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A state project consisting in building a paved road and a bridge in the Kinabatangan region in accordance with the Sabah Development Corridor’s plan (SDC) launched in January 2008, one of the economic corridors initiated under the 9th Malaysia Plan – and approved under the 11th Malaysia Plan – has been a center of a lot of attention and concerns by local organizations and researchers since January this year.

At the moment, the project comprises a 240 m long bridge expected to connect the western river bank to the Sukau village on the East and a road which would connect Sukau to Litang and Tomanggong, over 40 km away to the South-East. A 1000 m long viaduct would be included to the project across elephant habitat. The SDC plan states this project is to stimulate local economic activities and ensure the sustainable management of the state’s resources.

Any of the different options proposed for the project at the moment will worsen the forest fragmentation, which is already bad in the area. A lot of forests have been converted to oil palm plantations or other form of development since the last decade.

Researchers raised their concerns on the impacts the project would generate on the elephant populations and the threat to their survival. He said that the elephants wouldn’t go under the bridge because of the vibrations and noise which would result in splitting elephant herds in Sukau with those in Lokan and Tangkulap.

Orangutans are also found in the Lower Kinabatangan region at a quite high density. There would be 700 to 825 orangutans in the Lower Kinabatangan floodplain. As for the pygmy elephants, the project would go against the Lower Kinabatangan’s forests site-based priority action from the State’s Orangutan Action Plan which stipulates that efforts should be focused on preventing “any process that would further fragment the orangutan habitat (highways, bridges etc)”.

On the other hand several local communities in Sukau and surrounding villages are pushing for the project. They say they need it to facilitate the access to Sandakan or Lahad Datu for public healthcare services in a more secure and fastest way than presently. Broadly this bridge and the connected road would meet the villagers’ needs for development and improve their general living conditions.

It wouldn’t be in anyone’s interest to block the people from improving their livelihood especially when it comes to healthcare. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of wildlife survival and remaining forests.

The issue is very sensitive as a protest was organized by some villagers from Sukau an around on March 6th in kampung Sukau, to push the project to start and to show their objections to the NGOs for going against the project, thus causing the needed development to be postponed.

We hope and will push for an alternative solution to be discussed, a solution that minimizes the impacts on wildlife and forests and still allows the people to conveniently have access to healthcare and to meet their needs as much as possible.
Foto will post updates as soon as we hear any on our Facebook page and website.

FOTO Press Statement – BLD Plantation continues to destroy Sarawak peat forests

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On 25th February Sarawak Report published our press statement regarding BLD Plantation’s continued destruction of peat forests near Sibu, in the Malaysian Borneo state of Sarawak. Below is the full statement. Link to the statement on Sarawak Report’s website can be found here.



After Bunge Limited, one of the world’s largest agribusiness companies, announced last year its suspension of new commercial activity with Malaysian palm oil company BLD Plantation Bhd, BLD’s trading partner Apical Malaysia Sdn Bhd declared earlier this month they would be suspending trade with BLD until the latter addresses the issues brought up against them by Malaysian environmental NGO Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia (FOTO).

This significant action comes after BLD’s peat destroying activities near Sibu violated American headquartered Bunge and Apical’s sustainability policies. According to FOTO other major companies in Asia, Europe and America sourcing and trading palm oil products have been alerted and the NGO’s ally Rainforest Foundation Norway have asked numerous companies if they are in business with BLD.

At this date BLD continues to massively clear carbon-rich peat forests for oil palm agriculture which severely affects the environment and the local communities in BLD’s 20,446 hectares (ha) concession.

“Since year 2000 the amount of peat forest lost in BLD’s Sibu concession has been well over 12,000 ha and before long there might not be any peat forests left in the concession”, attested Upreshpal Singh, FOTO’s Director.

Clearing peat forest for agriculture, especially where it is very deep like in BLD’s concession, has disastrous consequences such as a massive release of carbon dioxide (from peat draining through canals), increased fire risk, and prolonged flooding which will eventually cause the land to be unproductive for agriculture, as has been highlighted in a study by Wetlands International in mid-2015.

In addition to harming the environment BLD’s activities also impact the Iban and Melanau communities whose NCR lands overlap with the company’s concession. According to data provided by the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA), the company’s Sibu concession covers about 47% (4,127 ha) of the Iban villagers’ NCR lands in kampung Tutus, one of the affected communities which will bring the case of land-grabbing by BLD to court, scheduled this month. It will not be the first lawsuit BLD will face for land-grabbing allegations by local communities.

Kampung Tutus villagers interviewed by FOTO and SADIA late last year said that their livelihood has been severely affected in many ways by BLD.

According to Upreshpal, FOTO repeatedly contacted the Sarawak chief minister’s office through email after a meeting held in early October 2015 with state premier Tan Sri Adenan Satem to discuss BLD’s transgressions. However, all of the NGO’s emails have been ignored as there appears to be no sign if the chief minister will intervene and stop BLD.

The NGO also contacted banks which had been financing BLD, urging them to investigate their client as BLD’s activities violate sustainable financing commitments made by of several of its financiers.

In early 2015 chief minister Adenan declared “We have enough of that already and we are not going to open up any more [palm oil] plantations”. BLD’s activities are in stark contrast to Tan Sri Adenan’s committment; however the chief minister does not show evidence of his intention to stop BLD from further destruction.

“We are very disappointed we never received any reply from the chief minister’ office when Tan Sri Adenan claims to want to protect Sarawak’s forests. BLD’s unsustainable and destructive activities besmirch Malaysia’s reputation in regard to environment conservation and it looks like it is still business as usual in Sarawak”, concluded Upreshpal.

Malaysian company suspends palm oil trade with BLD

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After Bunge Limited, one of the world’s largest agribusiness companies, announced last year its suspension of new commercial activity with Malaysian palm oil company BLD Plantation Berhad, FOTO has been informed that Apical Malaysia Sdn Berhad declared in early February it will suspend trading with BLD as well until the latter addresses the issues brought up against them by FOTO and our allies.

BLD are still extensively clearing peat swamp forest and land-grabbing local communities in Sarawak, in one of their concession located near Sibu despite our attempts to stop them. No competent authority seems willing to take action.

BLD’s activities violate both Apical and Bunge’s sustainability policies. But they might not be the last to stop buying from BLD, Kirana (BLD’s wholly-owned refinery) or Sunfield Global (trading company buying from BLD)! FOTO and our allies have alerted a number of US and European companies about BLD’s unsustainable activities in Sibu and we will also email Asian companies – with which we suspect BLD is mostly dealing – in this regard very soon.

One step at a time we will continue fighting to make BLD stop!

Shangri-La’s orangutan exploitation to end in April!

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The news we’ve all been waiting for is here! Shangri-la Rasa Ria Resort’s exploitation of orangutans to end in April! Please see the article at this link for more information.

The resort made it look like there are voluntarily ending the exploitation, and we will soon respond to it. But without your support for our campaign we assure you the exploitation would never stop.

In early February one orangutan was sent back to Sepilok.

Our petition will remain open until we know the remaining two infants at the resort are returned to Sepilok in April, and we will inform all supporters and declare victory! In the meantime please sign and share our petition and tweet to Shangri-La.

THANK YOU for your support. Without it this news would never come!

Forest Campaigner – vacancy in FOTO

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Friends of the Orangutans are currently looking to employ a full-time Forest Campaigner. Please see details below:


• Collect and analyze remote sensing and Geographic Information System (GIS) data from opan source databases
• Create and manipulate GIS data
• Produce detailed map graphics for a diversity of projects using GIS
• Develop, coordinate and manage projects on forest resources management and conservation of orangutan habitat, hard-hitting campaigns including existing ones
• Write news releases, letters to the media for publishing
• Communicate with media outlets, government agencies, zoos, NGOs, etc
• Perform any other duties assigned by the Director


• Bachelor’s degree in forestry/conservation biology/natural resource management or other related field
• Knowledge of principles, practices and application of GIS; representation of synthetic result maps
• Knowledge in remote sensing data and be willing to learn the use of highly specified software (e.g. CLASlite 3.2)
• Expansive knowledge interest in the Malaysian landscape in regards to environment and wildlife conservation, palm oil industry, forest management
• Fervent passion and beliefs in animal rights and environmental issues
• Meticulous and consistent approach to work, and ability to produce quality results
• Minimum 1 year experience in conservation
• Proficient in Bahasa Melayu and English, written and spoken
• Ability to multitask, work independently and meet deadlines with limited supervision
• Willing to relocate and travel, in and outside Malaysia
• Computer proficient
• Commitment to the objectives of the organization
• Applicant must be a Malaysian citizen

How to apply:

•Email us your resume & include a covering letter to explain why you want to be part of Friends of the Orangutans (FOTO), at
•Include two (2) contactable referees in your resume.
•Applications without a covering letter and referees will be rejected.
•State your starting expected salary.

Full time position only – on a annual contractual basis
Deadline for application: 25 March 2016
Employment begins in mid-April
Only short-listed candidates will be notified.


Alternatively, you may apply through Jobstreet at this link.

FOTO’s response to greenwashing article by Pierre Bois d’Enghien

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On 22nd January, Mr. Pierre Bois d’Enghien, an RSPO auditor and self-proclaimed “environmental expert” produced an extremely misleading article published by The Star. In it, d’Enghien claims Malaysia’s forests have grown and that “forest loss has effectively fallen to zero”. You can read d’Enghien’s article in full here.

Below is Friends of the Orangutans’ reply to d’Enghien’s piece:

It is with disappointment that we read Pierre Bois D’Enghien’s summary (‘Malaysia is green and growing’, The Star, 22 January) of the Malaysian forest situation as published in the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) 2015 report. D’Enghien implies states that “Malaysia’s forest area is increasing, not decreasing.” This is misleading as researchers and scientists have shown Malaysia as having an extremely high rate of deforestation, which contrasts the claims made by D’Enghien.

Closer inspection of the FRA report by the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations] shows that the figures have not been prepared by an independent international committee, but rather by the Malaysian government. In view of long-standing concerns about greenwashing by the Malaysian government, it is especially important that claims about the Malaysian rainforest are cross-checked by independent environmental groups locally and by reliable & independent international monitors. While some of the contentious claims made by D’Enghien are worth correcting.

D’Enghien’s piece states that Malaysia’s forest area today is 22,195,100ha or 67.6% (more than two-thirds) of the land area.  ‘Forest area’ is a dubious term as forest areas area might not have any natural forest in it. The correct term to use is ‘forest cover’. 

He also claims Malaysia’s forest cover, according to Global Forest Watch [GFW], stands at 29,000,000 hectares, an “upward of 80%”. The term used by GFW is ‘tree cover’ and not forest cover. Tree cover describes all trees and vegetation taller than 5m, including palm oil plantations, but palm oil plantations cannot be classified as forest as it cannot match natural forests in terms of carbon storage, biodiversity and maintenance of our precious ecosystems. D’Enghien – an ‘ambassador’ of The Oil Palm, initiated by Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) – is trying to tell Malaysians we have an abundance of natural forests left when the reality on the ground is different.

A finding by National University of Singapore (NUS) scientists revealed Malaysia had (at best) 45.4% forest cover in year 2010, a loss of 13.2% since 2000. Between those 10 years our country lost an astonishing 45.3% of forest cover on peatland. More recent data shows between 2012 and 2014 our country suffered 484,700 hectares of forest cover loss.

Thus it is extremely misleading and unethical, when the writer claims that Malaysia’sforest loss has effectively fallen to zero.”

Meanwhile, the FRA report states that between 1990 and 2015 Malaysia gained over a million hectares of primary forests, which is highly impossible and contentious considering the rate of deforestation. Our government has possibly reclassified certain areas as primary forests.

D’Enghien invites us, the Malaysian people, to be proud of the FRA report. He suggests we “should look to its findings to challenge the international media and those who intentionally spread misinformation about Malaysian palm oil.” We, as Malaysians, have looked at this report and other reports and found nothing to be proud of. We have lost the Sumatran rhino in Sabah, orangutan & elephant numbers are dwindling, indigenous locals’ lands are stolen for plantations and rampant deforestation, including on peatland, continues. Here is just one example.

Our palm oil industry has helped many Malaysians to make a better living (we don’t mean the opulent corporations). Palm oil is a productive crop but production must not be at the expense of the environment and people.

While the MPOC may be a lobby group for the Malaysian palm oil industry, it has the moral obligation not to mislead the Malaysian public including through greenwashing, which the MPOC will be very familiar with. By all means, extol the putative health benefits of palm oil if you must; but distortions of fact and outright lies are not only ethically unsound, in this case they are also robbing us of our natural home. Malaysia may be “green and growing,” as proclaimed in the title of D’Enghien’s opinion piece, but in this sea of green, we could ultimately die of thirst and polluted air, wiping out Malaysian wildlife along the way.

Upreshpal Singh,

Director, Friends of the Orangutans (Malaysia)

Mardia looking healthier!

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Mardia and her daughter Icha are two Bornean orangutans at the Melaka Zoo in Malaysia. Early last year Friends of the Orangutans provided assistance to this zoo to help them reduce the weight of Mardia, who can be seen as obese in the first photo below (from November 2014). Last month, our visit to Melaka Zoo showed Mardia has lost much weight and is now more active in the orangutan enclosure.

We have also assisted the zoo with their enrichment plans. And so have other organizations. The zoo now provides enrichment to Mardia and Icha. In one photo below both orangutans are seen in a hammock playing with browse.

Obesity, short inter-birth interval and human rearing are some of the factors influencing the longevity of captive orangutans.


November 2014:



December 2015: